Interior approves first offshore wind transmission line

Source: Phil Taylor, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Interior Department has approved the first transmission line in federal waters to serve an offshore wind farm.

Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved Deepwater Wind LLC to build a 9-mile subsea cable connecting Block Island to the Rhode Island mainland, a project that will support the company’s 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, the agency announced today.BOEM’s Oct. 27 finding of no significant impact for the transmission line keeps the $300 million Block Island on pace to be the first offshore wind farm in U.S. history. Offshore construction is scheduled to begin next summer, Deepwater announced in September.”This is a major milestone for offshore renewable energy in the United States,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement this morning. “But it also represents a big step in our nation’s sustainable energy future.”

Deepwater in September announced that the five-turbine project had received final approval from the Army Corps of Engineers — the last of its required federal permits.

The Army Corps evaluated the wind farm because it is being developed in state waters. BOEM evaluated the portion of the transmission line that would cross federal waters.

BOEM’s approval is a major milestone both for the wind farm and for Block Island, a popular vacation spot just south of the Ocean State that has long relied on diesel generators for power. The bi-directional transmission line will connect turbines located about 2.5 miles southeast of the island to the mainland while carrying electricity from the onshore power grid to the island.

The next step is for BOEM and Deepwater to agree to the “terms and conditions” of the right of way. BOEM will then send the grant to Deepwater for execution, and the company will be required to pay the first year’s rent and provide financial assurance, BOEM said.

The transmission line will be buried about 6 feet below the seabed and will run a total of 21 miles under state and federal waters, making landfall at Narragansett.

The Block Island project already has the support of key environmental groups after Deepwater in February 2013 agreed to delay disruptive construction activities until May to better protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (E&ENews PM, Feb. 4, 2013).

The pact with the Conservation Law Foundation will protect a species believed to number in the hundreds that was nearly hunted to extinction for its oil. Right whales and other marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski last December told Bloomberg he believed the Block Island project qualified to receive a 30 percent federal investment tax credit, arguing that the company had spent at least 5 percent of the project’s budget before the ITC expired Dec. 31.

Grybowski could not be immediately reached this morning.

Deepwater also plans to build a 1,000 MW wind farm off the Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts to supply electricity to Long Island and New England states. The Deepwater ONE project is slated as the first of the “second generation” wind farms in the United States. Most of the roughly 200 turbines will be more than 20 miles from shore. Deepwater has signed a similar pact with environmentalists on that project.